Anyone who has been to Tel Aviv in the past couple of years has seen the city’s latest growing trend moving about the streets – the electric scooter.
E-scooters have recently become a prominent mode of transportation within the city, potentially putting Tel Avivians at the forefront of an environmentally friendly urban lifestyle. In spite of its prominent biking culture, many members of the Tel Aviv community have found e-scooters to be an added danger in the already crowded city streets.
When “Tel-O-Fun” was established in Tel Aviv as an alternate method of transportation in 2011, Tel Aviv put itself on the map as a promoter of urban biking. With nearly 70 km (43.5 miles) of marked bike paths, the city certainly has become more micro mobility-friendly, meaning the accessibility to provide oneself with transportation via the new technology has skyrocketed. Are these Tel-O-Fun established bike paths enough, though?
Denmark, a country known for its pro-biking government and lifestyle, has 2,298 km (1,428 miles) of local bike paths alone, and continues to improve and support its biking infrastructure. In fact, compared many other cities around the world, Tel Aviv does not compare to the shared transport efforts and initiatives taking place. That is, unless it decides to take significant steps towards bettering its shared transportation infrastructure.
The benefits and the drawbacks
Yet, a question that has recently arisen is whether it is in Tel Aviv’s best interest to continue developing itself as a biking city. There is no doubt that shared electric transportation is better for the environment.
According to the mobility startup Lime, traveling with e-scooters reduces carbon emissions by 350 grams per mile, and even erases all emissions of air pollutants inside the city lines (and in some cases when renewable energy is used for charging the batteries also outside the city lines) compared to conventional modes of transportation such ascars or buses with internal combustion engines.
However, if not properly implemented, the overwhelming presence of electric bikes (e-bikes) and e-scooters on the streets can be a danger to pedestrians, conventional cyclists, and vehicular drivers alike. In the United States alone, there have been 1,545 scooter-related accidents in the last year, and just recently YouTuber Emily Hartridge died as a result of an e-scooter accident.
In light of a rise in e-scooter and e-bike related accidents, Tel Aviv has decided to place restrictions on electronic transportation use.
In addition to reducing the number of e-bikes and e-scooters that each company can supply, there will also be restrictions on parking and stricter enforcement of the e-scooter age limit. While these are all useful solutions for a quick and immediate decrease in the dangerous driving and walking conditions created by e-scooters, these regulations may be counterintuitive in helping Tel Aviv become a bike and scooter friendly city.
What can Tel Aviv do to help safely develop e-scooting and biking culture?
According to Yuval Kerem, an economic and policy consultant specializing in shared transportation, despite the challenges, Tel Aviv could be embracing its potential to be a leading bike-friendly city by taking advantage of the resources it already has, and safely expanding upon resources it lacks.
“I have to say that overall, the regulations on e-scooters are going in the right direction, and we are setting a good benchmark for micro-mobility regulations. With that being said, the challenge is to successfully develop enough parking spaces for e-scooters and bikes around the city,” says Kerem.
Increase in parking areas for scooters and bikes, though simple, require urban planning and zoning which can often be bureaucratic and slow-moving. Nonetheless, these changes are vital for the city’s growth considering how popular e-scootering has become.
One of the biggest complaints regarding electric scooters is that they are often left scattered on sidewalks and bike paths, directly in the way of pedestrians and other last mile vehicles. Kerem points out that “in the scope of pedestrian safety, parking spaces are really important and the city needs to establish such spaces, along with the companies who develop the technology.”
By taking a look at the advances of micro-mobility in other cities, Tel Aviv might be able to learn about what other steps it could take to move towards a greener, safer, urban transport system. Amsterdam, for example, is in the process of expanding its bike lanes to more than 8 feet in width. This will allow for more riders and will significantly reduce the risk of accidents due to overcrowded bike paths.
While Portland, Oregon is not continually expanding its bicycle lane infrastructure, it is upgrading the safety and comfort of both bikers and pedestrians. Thirty-one intersections now include traffic signs designated explicitly for bicycles in order to reduce conflicts and improve safety.
Tel Aviv can also expand upon its cycling infrastructure, promote shared transportation through social and environmental campaigns, and, most importantly, find a balance between the city’s regulation efforts and technological efforts from popular e-scooter brands like Lime and Bird. This government activity would seem new to Tel Aviv, considering the e-scooter and e-bike technology surfaced relatively recently.
“A few years ago, there was a very dramatic change because there was an advancement in technology and vehicles became cheaper and the companies said to the municipality that they would like to work alone,” says Kerem. This change has caused a big conflict of interest between shared transport companies and the city. As Kerem points out, however, the problems that Tel Aviv faces will not be solved by a continuous struggle of “either-or.” Instead, the municipality needs to work together with shared transport companies to optimize electric transport safety and infrastructure.
According to the Ministry of Transport, approximately 550,000 people travel by bus throughout Tel Aviv and in the surrounding Gush Dan Metropolitan Area. Since buses do not run on Shabbat, the importance of e-scooters is amplified when traveling significant distances or when biking is not ideal. Moving forward, Kerem is confident that infrastructure will need to continue to evolve towards making the city more scooter and bike accessible.
Lime CEO Brad Bao compared Tel Aviv to Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where 50% of traffic consists of bicycles and scooters. At the start of 2019, Lime began its venture in Tel Aviv with 500 e-scooters; today 20% of Tel Avivians use the 2,000 plus Lime e-scooters. Keeping in mind that Lime is just one e-scooter brand used in Israel, establishing more bike lanes and parking areas is ever more important. Other legislation regarding e-scooters is being proposed, such as enforcing maximum speeds of 25 km/h and enforcing the use of helmets.
Public support for e-scooters has its pros and cons. On the one hand, they provide a convenient means of transportation, which has motivated many people to refrain from driving a car in the city. On the other hand, however, e-scooters have endangered pedestrians and other cyclists and crowded the already scarce bike lanes of Tel Aviv.
There is no arguing that e-scooter and e-bikes have fundamentally changed the transportation dynamic of Tel Aviv and contributed to a more eco-friendly and modern urban image. However, now, the city needs to implement changes that will not only help restore balance in a changing traffic environment but promote policy as well as infrastructure that will permanently insure the safe use of electric scooters for all road users.
This ZAVIT article was also published in The Jewish Journal on 08/23/2019.